Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Temporizing Priest

Edward Feser describes the temporizing priest: the priest who is not necessarily unorthodox, but who dilutes Catholic teaching in his speech:

Here’s how the temporizing approach works. Where the liberal or secularist finds Catholic teaching hopelessly “reactionary,” the temporizing churchman will either keep silent about it or qualify it to the point of blunting or even neutralizing its force. Hence he will, for example, say nothing at all about contraception. Homosexuality and abortion he cannot keep silent about, because they are matters of current political controversy. Regarding homosexuality, then, he will issue a vague statement to the effect that the Church believes that we are all called to honor the Creator’s plan for sex and marriage. If he can’t avoid doing so, he will acknowledge that this entails that homosexual activity is immoral; but he will also, and almost before he has finished uttering it, proceed to bury this acknowledgment under a mountain of verbiage about the respect, sensitivity, compassion, and understanding owed homosexual persons, about the evils of discrimination, etc. Regarding abortion, the temporizing bishop will speak vaguely of “promoting a culture of life” and emphasize the compassion owed women who find themselves “in difficult circumstances” – rather than, say, calling attention to the unique depravity of willfully murdering your own flesh and blood for the sake of a hassle-free orgasm. No matter how wicked the practice or policy and no matter how shrill and dishonest the propaganda of its defenders, the temporizing bishop will respond in the mildest fashion and will attribute only the best motives to the other side. As George Carlin might have put it, whereas the great churchmen of the past were football players, the modern, temporizing bishop prefers baseball. Or to switch metaphors, he brings a bean bag to a gunfight.

Or at least he does so where, again, the Church’s teaching seems “reactionary.” Where it seems (or can be made to seem) “progressive,” the temporizing churchman suddenly turns into Knute Rockne, or Gary Cooper in High Noon. He will issue bold statements on immigration, health care, or capital punishment, and will emphasize these purportedly “liberal friendly” issues to the point of exaggerating their significance relative to the Church’s more “reactionary” teachings. And he will see common ground between Catholicism and liberalism where in fact there is no common ground – sometimes in a manner that seriously distorts what the Church actually teaches. Again, last year’s health care debate provides an illustration: The statements made at the time by the USCCB gave the false impression that, apart from federal funding of abortion, Catholic teaching would favor the passage of President’s health care bill, or something like it. But as I noted at the time, the fact is that while Catholic social teaching unambiguously rejects the dogmatic laissez-faire position of extreme libertarianism, it is at the level of general principle nevertheless much closer to the “conservative” end of the political spectrum than to the “liberal” end – insisting, on grounds of justice, on decentralized and private solutions wherever possible, and leaving matters of concrete policy for competent laymen to decide rather than imposing any particular program.

With exceptions, this describes Catholic clergy as a whole in this day and age.

It's not working. It's time to tell it like it is.